Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

If my digestive system were on better behavior these days, right now I would want to eat a dill pickle. I can assure you that this desire springs from neither pregnancy nor some odd craving. No, thinking of a garlicky, salty dill pickle, with a sandwich thick with Italian cold cuts, specifically is in gustatory tribute to Harold Starr.

Harold was my mother’s boss some 60 years ago. Fresh out of UCLA in 1947 (he genially tolerated and teased me about my USC employment for these many years), Harold threw open his doors as an accountant and insurance broker and in 1948 hired my 21-year-old mother as the office “gal Friday.” Since he was active in Jewish and Democratic circles, my mother helped him with many a political fundraiser and campaign event. I’ve seen her photos of Congressman Ed Roybal, candidate Adlai Stevenson, and a rail-thin young Ted Kennedy. Working for Harold is why my mother registered as a Democrat and has remained a life-long registered Democrat: she just never bothered – or wanted – to change her party affiliation.

As with Weeder, I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t know Harold. He came over once a year, as soon as cucumbers were in season, to make his special recipe of dill pickles with my parents. His son Jeff reminded me today that he would give my brothers and me piggy-back rides to keep us entertained while the adults worked on the pickle project. In the twilight of one hot summer night, I remember watching Harold, my mom, and dad toss peeled garlic and pickling spices into Mason quart jars crammed tight with “pickling cukes,” as my dad called them, aligned in close rows covering the top of the kitchen table. Harold nudged me with his elbow and told me to put a few more garlic cloves in one particular jar. I asked him how come that jar needed more. With a wink, he told me he could just tell it just did.

Then the jars would get turned upside-down on newspaper overnight (to make sure they were sealed and not leaking, my dad explained), and then righted the next morning. Over the next few days we’d hear the “pop” of the canning lids as the fermentation got underway. And we would wait impatiently for my dad to pronounce the pickles “ready.”

Opening the first jar of the batch was an occasion. We always had them with salami sandwiches, for some reason, and often with my mother’s good potato salad. With six of us, we would handily wipe out a jar in one lunch. There was something special and different for us about pickles from Harold’s recipe; store-bought just never cut it. Harold’s pickles became the standard against all other pickles were judged. The ones sold in the barrel in the general store on Main Street in Disneyland and in Jewish delis in LA came close, but we knew what the only true pickles were, and they were Harold’s. If you were ever given one of these “private reserve” jars from my parents, you are special, indeed. When we got down to the last jar, my dad would solemnly intone, “This is it.” And then we would hope for the time when the next batch was ready to eat.

So Harold and his wife Jeri have been part of the Kamei family for all these years. With Harold, we have been “the kosher Kameis.” Most recently Harold and Jeri came to Akemi’s senior Colburn recital and the dinner for the “A list” back at our house afterwards, and to the ceremony we had to scatter my father’s ashes in April this year. He has been very good to my parents over all these years and especially watchful over my mother since my father passed away. Since my mother told me that Harold passed away last Saturday at the age of 85, I have been very sad. In addition to making a mean pickle, Harold was a prince of a guy; really the best.

I’m glad this was a “no treatment” week so I was able to count on feeling fine and attending his memorial service today. Jeri said she and Harold were appalled to hear of my diagnosis, and that even in his last days, he was concerned about me.

I told Jeff that perhaps we’d have to summon the courage and energy to tackle making the pickles without him and my dad one of these days. And that would be a pickle I would eat, chemo-cranky stomach or not.

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